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Challenges to Holding Cops Accountable for Police Brutality

Info: 2650 words (11 pages) Essay
Published: 7th Jun 2021 in Criminology

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The police unions that we thought are protecting us are also killing us. In the past year communities are beginning to lose trust on its police system because there has been an increase of activity in fatal shootings and police brutality. There have been cases where innocent lives faced injustice such as the incident with Alton Sterling, shooting of innocent Michael Brown, and the fatal shooting of neighbor Botham Jean. In all these cases the police were not filed with any criminal charges. The reason is the law protects police from facing any accountability by using the Collective Bargaining Agreement which will often have provisions relating to police discipline. The CBA will often require an officer’s disciplinary record to be cleared meaning there is no history even if the officer is engaged with misconduct repeatedly. Allowing this type of corrupt system is the reasons cops are barely held accountable for taking away many lives through excessive force and is part of the reason why I do not support our current police system. I believe our current policing system is broken and needs to be change by modifying policies and implementing new reforms, removing laws that benefit cops for killing, and changing the practices of the police academies.

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Police officers are given special rights and a separate legal framework that prevents them from prosecution called the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights which lets officers avoid investigations and prosecutors from questioning the officers performing their duty. It’s the reason why when you sue a cop its almost near impossible because The LEOBR made it difficult to discipline or remove the officers because of a legal concept called qualified immunity. Normally if you sue a civilian there has to proof that person violated your right but if you sue a officer you have proven they violated a right that is clearly established. But a right isn’t clearly established until another civilian successfully sues an officer for violating it. This creates a lack of consequences and allows officers to use excessive force even when it’s not necessary because there was never a case were an officer was violated for the use of excessive force. The courts task has been guided by the United State Supreme Court to evaluate the reasonableness of an officer based on a standard of “objective reasonableness.” It is instructed to confront the facts of a case as they were presented to the officer when the decision to use force was made and to determine if the actions were “reasonable” given the circumstances and what was known to the officer at the time (EKU). Technically an officer’s point of view is more valuable than the civilian as to proving if the officer committed misconduct. An example of an officer who clearly committed misconduct but was not given any sort of punishment was a case in 1989, when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision inGraham v. Connor (1989). Graham was in need of sugar because of was having an insulin reaction, after seeing the long line he came out the store furious, so he drove to another store in hopes of a shorter wait time. An officer spotted Graham walking out the store furious and was suspicious of his action. The officer pulled over Graham and was told to wait to allow the officers to think what Graham’s intention was when he left the previous store. The officers believe Graham was drunk but insisted he was diabetic and asked the officers to check his wallet for a diabetic identification card but the officer told him to “shut up” and proceeds to slam him on the hood of the car and later to receive bruises and injuries at his shoulder. Graham was offered an orange juice from a friend to help counteract with his insulin reaction, but the officer denied her courtesy and demanded him to stay away from Graham. Graham appealed because he believes the police officers used excessive force and violated his constitutional right of the 4th amendment. The supreme court had to decide based on how reasonable it was for the cops to use force based on the 4th amendment. It was depicted that “objective reasonableness” could be interpreted in many ways, the court decided the case would be better judged from the perspective of the officers at the event. They reviewed the case again through the perspective of the 4th Amendment. The court argued by doing that it would make subjective concepts like malicious intent unviable. The officer believed Graham was committing a crime, so the officer was not held liable because his actions were reasonable assuming a crime was intentionally happening. Therefore, the validity of Graham’s claim must be judged by reference to the specific rights conferred by the Fourth Amendment, not by a generalized “excessive force” standard (Oyez). The Graham decision made it clear on the issues of police using deadly force. The Supreme Court stated that any force used by the police is “objectively reasonable” and the actions were reasonable considering the events and the situation he was facing, without regard to his underlying intent or motivation (EKU). But the courts “objectively reasonable” rule sides with the officer’s input to his situation, and it allows judges go by his word and believe the officer was just doing his job. The rule made it unfair to civilians because any police cannot be accountable for using excessive force because if they have reason to prove they were doing “reasonable actions” to prevent a crime then by all means the Judge cannot blame him for doing his duty. It makes it clearly that any officer intention to stop a crime by using all force are more important in detail rather than the excessive actions are done toward the person. That’s the issue with the LEOBR because they are given special rights that grants the different treatment compared to others and avoids officer from facing any punishments,

The LEOBR has made it near impossible for cops to be held accountable which also means bad cops are also near impossible to be removed from duty. Police union contracts shield bad officers from legal consequences by providing a waiting periods of up to 48 hours to allow officers a chance to “cool off” and find lawyers for their case. They also have their identity hidden from the public and their testimony against him before interrogation and must be interrogated at a reasonable hour with a union member present. There is a union contract called collective bargaining rights that are implemented in selected individual police agencies that will have provisions relating to police discipline. It may limit how officers are investigated and disciplined. It may also require that an officer’s disciplinary records to be erased every 60 days, meaning an officer who are often a part in misconduct repeatedly can have any violent history cleared. The collective bargaining agreement from Lake Forest Park Police stated a removal of disciplinary records under Article 21.

Employees may directly petition the Employer (City Administrator and/or Police Chief) to have evidence of disciplinary actions removed from the file. The Employer has the right to remove evidence of such actions. Once removed, evidence of disciplinary action may not be used in a subsequent disciplinary action or grievance (MRSC)

Police can prevent any history of misconduct that is already recorded to be removed by requesting a deletion of disciplinary action from their records. Allowing the collective bargaining agreement to create procedural rights for officers make it difficult for agencies to investigate and discipline misconduct, that includes any recorded actions of excessive use of force, abuse of power, and false arrest can be cleared from their record. Such contractual provisions influence has made it harder to deter misconduct and thus promote its actions. A recent study from the University of Chicago Law School found when deputies in Florida obtain union contracts; statistics has shown an increase in violent misconduct complaints. Our estimates imply that collective bargaining rights led to about a 40% increase in violent incidents of misconduct among sheriffs’ offices, corresponding to one incremental incident over a five-year period for the typical sheriff’s office (Collective Bargaining Rights and Police Misconduct: Evidence from Florida). Unions are impeding police reforms that are created to strengthen community trust in police and making sure police are held accountable by allowing the Collective Bargaining Agreement process to tilt policies in favor of cops and against the public interest.

American police officers are one of the best trained in the world but what they trained to do is part of the problem. Police are trained to be on guard at all time because if at anytime they are not, someone will take advantage of that and potentially die as a result. Not only do police have to stay on guard, they must be ready to act instantly even before a threat fully manifests. Cop trainees are taught to see anybody as a potential threat. And chances are most people are killed because police departments spend less time in conflict de-escalation. De-escalation training teaches officers to take their time, create space, and use communication to calm potentially dangerous situations. An officer can use this technique to save lives rather resorting to violence, but it’s not given much attention.

Additionally, officers struggled to identify a concrete definition of de-escalation, and many could not remember incidents in which they had successfully de-escalated a conflict. This is because officers are trained to reflect hard on the “bad” situations, or the ones in which they are forced to use force (APM Reports)

The police academy does not teach new cops to not think of the consequences of their actions but rather to react quickly to their actions. In most police shooting, the officer doesn’t shoot out of hatred but because they are afraid. An example is the Sacramento Police Officer who fatally shot Stephon Clark because they mistakenly represented the phone on his hand as a gun. The DA said the two officers "honestly, without hesitation, believed he had a gun" before they fired 20 shots at Clark, hitting him at least seven times (NPR). The officer shot Clark because he believed he had a weapon but misunderstood it as his phone. Part of an officers training is too react instantly before the enemy can. That is why the officer fired without hesitation but didn’t take the time to fully analyze what Clark was holding. This is the type of situations were implementing fear-based training on police can create unavoidable deaths.

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 Some may argue police shouldn’t be punished for killing a person because they are risking their lives and are trying to protect the lives other people, so why should they be punished for doing their jobs?  Punishment can serve as learning tool to avoid mistake but not letting police be held responsible for the people who they mistakenly kill are the reasons cops will never have to worry about killing another person. Imagine if a person is perceived as a threat from an officer and is are freighted because he clearly doing nothing wrong then the officer pulls out a gun because he thinks you are armed. The officer can take the initiative to shoot if he thinks the person is planning to cause a threat. Take for example Clark he was in his backyard and officers told him to show his hand but when he pulls out his wallet, they began to assume it was a gun and shot him 20 times. This is police academies teachings officer to think anybody is a threat and the idea makes police officers be more aggressive towards civilians. If police academies had given more time learning to utilize de-escalation training, then it would change the outcome of the situation and create better solution to avoid a person getting killed.

It's called "de-escalation" training, and it teaches officers to slow down, create space, and use communication techniques to defuse potentially dangerous situations. It gives officers strategies to more calmly deal with people who are experiencing mental and emotional crises. There are 34 states that do not require de-escalation training for all officers, according to an analysis by APM Reports (APM Reports)

Allowing officers to learn de-escalation would reduce the resort of killing and allow first approach to be more understanding. Officers should not try to kill there enemy because they could possibly be having a crisis and are not getting the help they need. There actions are violent but that doesn’t given it a good reason to end it all for them because it would be better to understand the person calming the person down.

 It is clear that the only way to prevent our broken police system from hurting the trust with the community is by creating fair reforms to the public and to the officers. Allowing changes to the law would mean a better system were the community can be treated fairly and remove those that only benefit one side and not the other. Allowing those who have lost a loved one during police brutality get the answers that they deserve and given a better treatment in their investigations and take out the cops that are responsible for the killing. And lastly change the way the police are trained to approach situations with a less violent approach and providing more communication to people to create a better understanding between each other. The people are losing its trust on the police and the only way to fix it is to avoid creating a system that supports violet actions but rather create a system that was meant to protect and serve its people.

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